Friday, September 30, 2011

The Moment that Made the Year for Me

Sitting on a plane has always felt like a homecoming for me. Having lived in a different state from my parents for 6 years means lots of plane trips home for Christmas and summer. Like Pavlov's dog, I had it stuck in my head that sitting on a plane meant going back to something familiar-something comfortable. 

I guess that's what made the plane ride such a surreal experience. It felt like the same old flight home, but I had to keep reminding myself, no Jon, you're not going home. You're going somewhere you've never been, all by yourself. It didn't feel real. I had a hard time comprehending what this flight really meant.

Over the previous 6 months I had been preparing to go on a bike tour from the Canadian border to the Mexican border along the Pacific coast. It started as a daydream and as the months passed, it came a lot closer to reality. I started buying gear and training. Slowly but surely I worked up to 40 mile rides and my pile of cycling and camping gear got bigger and bigger, not to mention the money in my bank account started depleting. 

My whole approach to preparing for the trip was non-committal. I started out buying gear that would be useful for me whether or not I actually went on the tour. I saw my training routine as something that would be good for me even if I decided not to leave on the trip. 

I had been telling myself this adventure story, but I couldn't decide if the story was fiction or non-fiction. But sooner or later I would be forced to decide.

Looking back at the experience, I'm reminded of Don Quixote. He lived a boring life as an old man with his niece taking care of him. He sat around the house reading chivalry books about knights and giants. He kept reading stories, but never had a story of his own. But his life changed when he really believed the stories were true. Even under the ridicule of his closest friends and family he chose to believe the story of chivalry and decided to live it himself. He got off his bed, constructed a suit of armor, and began his adventures as a knight. It was only at the point when he believed the story was true that he was changed as a person.

I finally got to the point where I acted like my adventure story was really real. There was still some doubt in my mind, but on May 23rd I packed my gear and got on the plane to Bellingham. I looked out the window and saw the Rockies pass by--a familiar sight that only made the flight feel like my homecoming flights to Alaska. After a few hours we landed in Seattle, the airport I almost always fly through on my way to Alaska. I spent the night sleeping on the Seattle airport floor and it passed by incredibly slowly. So this is what I'm getting myself into--sleeping on hard surfaces for 40 days straight. Great. 

In the morning I got on my connecting flight to Bellingham, which is a town very close to the Washington-Canada border. I had heard that one of the most beautiful parts of the Washington leg of my tour would be the view across Puget Sound at the evergreen covered islands jutting out of the water. As the sun was rising I could look out the window and see the breath-taking Puget Sound view. I wonder if I'll be riding across any of those islands. The flight was short-only about 30 minutes and as we were descending I looked out and saw the roads of northwest Bellingham. I had seen these roads before on Google Maps. I saw the interstate that I'd be riding under and then paralleling on my way to the border. And I saw the airport just to the west of the freeway in the same place that Google showed me. This was starting to feel real.

My knees started shaking and I was, all of a sudden, very nervous. Here we go. The plane landed, I got my gear off the baggage claim, and started assembling my bike. I spent an hour in the middle of the tiny airport putting the bike together and packing my gear. People stared at me, wondering what the heck I was doing. My whole body was shaking out of excitement and nervousness. I eventually changed into my cycling clothes and came out to my bike. It was ready to go. Tires inflated, handlebars attached, brakes engaged, bolts tightened, water bottles filled, and panniers closed. 

I walked out to the drive way and straddled my bike, taking a picture to prove that my odometer did, in fact, start at 0.0 miles. I looked around me with a huge smile on my face. I pushed forward, clipped into my pedals, and started pedaling. 

Finally, I knew this was real. I knew there was no turning back and I knew that this was going to be the greatest adventure I've ever done.

A Note from Jon: This was my submission to my friend Anthony's annual writing challenge. The assignment was to write about an hour or a day that really made the year for you. 

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